Sunday, 25 January 2009

The dark and stormy sea

Last night I was in The Gallows Bird in Espoo for their real ale festival. I arrived a little too late as by the time I got there they had run out of real ale! However I did enjoy one or two glasses with friends who were on good form. I did however have a Cinderella moment just before midnight and suddenly left before the bus or I turned into a pumpkin! On the way home I plugged in the iPod and listened to some good music. There was something very peaceful about watching a snowy late night Helsinki pass me by through the window to the soundtrack of some cracking songs. If I woke any neighbours with my singing as I walked the last 500m I apologise.

Today I was out skiing (again) only this time with Tom & Hanna who showed me round the back of Paloheinä so weather permitting tomorrow I should be able to ski for several hours without ever having to repeat myself.

This evening we dipped into Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries which we have used as a source of inspiration for the last two years and made some chicken patties. I got into trouble with the boss for leaving out potatoes from the finished dish but I enjoyed the chance to serve the patties with some leeks fried in butter and thyme and some steamed vegetables.

I was trying to finish the Kalevala this evening with the TV on and a salad dressing caught my attention. I think the ingredients were ginger, garlic, grated cucumber and soy sauce. If I missed anything it is close enough for me to work with. The question now is when will we eat this salad? The menu for next week is written and so far no salad. I might solve that problem wandering down the road at 1am singing for the benfit of the neighbours.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Handbags and the Gladrags

We left the UK two and a bit years ago and came to live and work in the Nordic countries. Part of what I hoped we would experience was a proper winter. The first two winters were memorable only for their lack of snow and how dark and vaguely depressing they were.

Yesterday the boss & I were out in Helsinki visiting the Natural History Museum and it started snowing. Really snowing. This snow was on top of a good base of ice and a few centimetres of snow we already have. After we finished in the Museum (free on a Thursday between 16:00 – 18:00) we headed off to the Nanking restaurant on Kalevelakatu. I had heard good things about this restaurant through and was keen to try it. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised and slightly disappointed. Firstly the good things: the service was friendly, the restaurant was clean, the rice was tasty and plentiful, the price of my bottle of Tsingtao wasn’t exorbitant and my chicken noodle soup was really really tasty. However my main course of Beef with chilli and garlic was a disappointment. Not because they packed it full of interesting vegetables that added to the dish but because they had altered the dish to suit the taste buds of the Finns so it lacked any hint of garlic and chilli. The boss had a citrus chicken which while it was too sweet for my tastes managed to be both crispy and full of citrus flavour and quite wonderful. My over all view is that I will give it another go but talk to them about wanting a more authentic version of the dish on the menu.

This morning when I got up I realised it had snowed a lot during the night so I took myself off to Paloheinä to do some training for the Finlandia race next month. I thought I had done well yesterday when I skied over 14km for the first time in my life but today in fresh snow I took myself off alone through the snowy forest and went around the 7.5km track a couple of time and stopped after 2hrs and 18km. I have to confess that it was very tiring as the track I was following was a very hilly course but to be alone in the silent forest, making the first tracks on fresh snow made me so very happy to be out in the world and I have to say that my tired legs seem a small price to pay for the privilege of being outdoors on such a day.

After getting home I wrote myself a spectacular jobs list so as not to get under the boss’ feet and while I was busy doing them (including washing a sheep fleece rug….oh my goodness that is a job I recommend you avoid!) I put together a dish that is currently cooking in the oven that we’re going to enjoy in an hour or so.

Slow cooked oven Lamb shanks

I have to say that when I started this, I did so without a recipe, just a basic idea of slow cooking some lamb shanks in the oven in some garlic, rosemary and red wine. A couple of times when I spoke to the boss I mentioned other ingredients like pearl barley and when I came to preparing the dish I had some Spanish dried peppers out on the countertop as well. The point I want to make is that sometimes with these dishes that look after themselves it is as important to decide what to leave out as it is to decide what to leave in. I hope you enjoy the recipe.

By the way I bought the Lamb shanks in Hakaniemi kauppahalli and the four or five butchers there are the real deal. They know meat and they have most of what you want. I have even heard rumours they can get fresh blood which means home made black pudding which would be amazing. Anyway back to the recipe.

Serves 2
2 lamb shanks
3 cloves of garlic
2 good sprigs of rosemary chopped
1 red onion chopped
Half a courgette slices
1 red pepper chopped
2 large mushrooms sliced
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
Half a bottle of red wine
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C
In a heavy cast iron pan heat the olive oil and brown the lamb shanks.
Once they are mostly browned add the chopped garlic and rosemary. If it looks like they might burn add the wine, if not, let them brown a little and then add the wine.
Add the other vegetables and then the tin of tomatoes. Fill the tin with water and add that to the dish.
Season with salt & pepper
Put on the lid, let it come to the boil and transfer to the oven.
Cook for 3 –4 hrs or longer if you wish.
When serving add some more freshly chopped rosemary.

I am going to serve this with mashed potatoes and broccoli. However I am going to roast some garlic in the oven and add this to the mashed potatoes to give it a pleasant extra little taste. I hope you enjoy it.

Tomorrow I am back to work during the day but then off to a real ale festival with some friends that I have been bad at catching up with (sorry!) in the evening & then I have another couple of days off to practice my skiing. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

In deep water

The Finlandia ski race is getting closer day by day and yet my week seems to have revolved around Swimming and Basil. The lack of skiing is bordering on the embarrassing but then so is the lack of snow. Due to physical illness and unseasonably warm weather I have been a lazy toe rag all week. However today I was feeling much better so went to Paloheinä at 11am to have a good ski only to find it overrun with rug rats and parents all competing and the track reserved until late into the afternoon. Thinking quickly of a plan B I headed off to Itäkeskus swimming pool. I've always been curious to swim in a giant bomb shelter and the opportunity to work on some fitness and stamina for the big race seemed like a good combination. I managed to swim a kilometre and a half before cramp claimed both my calves mid length but it was a satisfying start considering the lane was helpfully being used by two ladies who were so slow you had to go round them every length which made for a very stop start swimming experience and probably explains the cramp. Just what a peak athlete needs to get in shape!! That was a joke.
I've come home to the smell of banana and carrot bread baking in the oven. Wonderful! I think an afternoon of good movies, tea and cake is coming my way.
Away from the pool and the ski track I made a lovely pesto sauce this week which was so easy I want to encourage you all to do it. The trick is the order everything goes in:
1) Garlic
2) Basil
3) Parmesan
4) Olive oil
5) Pine nuts
Use a pestle and mortar and just add one by one and go gentle on the oil to get the right consistency. I find if you add too much oil you can repair the damage by adding more cheese. If you live in Finland I am going to recommend buying two of the basil plants from the supermarket as one is just not enough to make a really wonderful quantity of tasty, vivid green pesto.
So in the week ahead there will be skiing every night after work and a beer festival on Saturday night. Should be a good week!

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


Sometimes you need a supper to cleanse the soul as well as to clear the sinus' so you can breathe again. My cold has dragged on and become interminably boring to myself and those around me. However I am now seeing sense, have stopped training, taken a day off work and slept like a log. I did however manage to play in the kitchen long enough to assemble this delightful broth. It was the kind of soup I would hope to find on some street in South East Asia when I get there.

No apologies for lack of authentic flavours, this was just cooking with whatever came to hand.

Serves 2
1/2 Pak Choi sliced
1 red chili chopped
1 red onion sliced
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 piece of ginger finely chopped
Soy sauce
1 Pork steak thinly sliced
1 packet of Udon noodles
750ml of chicken stock

First marinade the pork in the ginger, garlic, soy sauce and mirin.
Fry the onions with the chili, once they are done add half the pak choi
Add the pork and the marinade mix and continue to cook until the pork is done
Cook the noodles in the chicken stock

Place the noodles in the bottom of a deep bowl, spoon over the chicken stock and then add the pork, onion and cooked pak choi. Finally add the raw pak choi and serve.

Easy and best of all tasty.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Time for action

Has it already got to the 6th of January? Have I been sleeping though Christmas and New Year? Seems like it though the truth is, of course, that I have been at work. So much so it seems that my boss (at work) told me I was working too much and to make sure I took some time back. My challenge of course is when!

The time off I had over the Christmas/New Year break has been good, I have done a lot of reading: Scarlet & Black was finally finished and can be much recommended. Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks was a let down to anyone who has read and enjoyed even one of Ian Fleming's original James Bond novels. Now I am plunging straight into the Kalevala, the Finnish National Epic and so far so good. I was lucky enough to receive a pile of books over Christmas so I need to keep up the pace so that I keep on top of them. That last sentence is, I think, a great thing to be able to write. It's good to have books waiting for you.

The Kitchen was busy over Christmas, of course. We were very organised and planned all our food before hand (on the back of an opened envelope). So much so in fact that we are still living off the food we bought and only one avocado has been wasted in the process.

This is what we had
Fri 19 Pasta Carbonara
Sat 20 Thai Red Curry
Sun 21 Cous Cous (Which we took to Quinn's leaving do not realising she was going to invite herself to our house for Christmas!)
Mon 22 I was working late so the boss made herself Pasta surprise
Tue 23 I did the same as Monday and so did she
Wed 24 Home made leek and potato soup
Thu 25 Roast Beef with Yorkshire pudding
Fri 26 Left over surprise
Sat 27 Bulgar wheat with aubergine
Sun 28 Chicken ramen noodles
Mon 29 Boss' pasta surprise
Tue 30 Lamb chops and potatoes
Wed 31 Fennel, Cannelleni Beans and Gnocchi
Thu 1 Roast Pork Loin with pomegranite

The basic idea was to build the Christmas New Year time around 2 or 3 big dishes and then have something lighter on other nights. We plundered Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries and Moro East for inspiration. Drew up our shopping lists, tried to remember we were only feeding two when thinking about quantities and then went out and foraged. We enjoyed the experience of standing in Hakaniemi Kauppahalli on the last Sunday before Christmas as all the Finns came to collect their Hams. We were the linguistically challenged foreigners tried to explain what pork loin was to the butcher amidst all the enormous hams flying over our heads like airplanes! At least they have decent butchers here in Helsinki, it was so much more challenging in Trondheim.

Last night we had some pan fried tuna steaks with some rice and roast butternut squash. Which was lovely. The Boss worked up some kind of Fennel seed, Coriander seed, Garlic, Salt and Olive Oil rub which gave them a lovely extra dimension in flavour. The best thing is we have left overs now and can decide if we do ravioli or risotto. The agony of choice!

Today should be a quiet day, I have had a cold but now am better and want to get outside. I am entered into the Finlandia ski race next month and I need to start training. The weather has been very cold for the past fortnight and hopefully today will bring the snow. In the meantime the Boss & I will try and explore over towards Itä Keskus and the mad underground swimming pool that used to be a bomb shelter (Helsinki City Council's website still proudly says it can be converted into an emergency shelter!). All I know about this place is that it is a bomb shelter big enough for 3 swimming pools and one of them is 50m long!

Apart from exploring and reading I need to start my training for the aforementioned ski race but before I begin I want to share my one and only resolution for 2009:

Not to move out of Helsinki.